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LLL - GFATF - Lord’s Resistance Army

Lord’s Resistance Army


Established In: 1987

Established By: Joseph Kony

Also Known As: LRA

Country Of Origin: Uganda

Leaders: Joseph Kony

Key Members: Joseph Kony, Caesar Achellam

Operational Area: Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad

Number Of Members: 100-200

Involved In: Kidnapping, Capturing sex slaves, Armed attacks

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General Info:

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), also known as the Lord’s Resistance Movement, is a rebel group and heterodox Christian group which operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Originally known as the United Holy Salvation Army and Uganda Christian Army/Movement, its stated goals include establishment of multi-party democracy, ruling Uganda according to the Ten Commandments, and Acholi nationalism, though in practice “the LRA is not motivated by any identifiable political agenda, and its military strategy and tactics reflect this”. It appears to largely function as a personality cult of its leader Joseph Kony, a self-declared prophet whose leadership has earned him the nickname “Africa’s David Koresh”.

The LRA was listed as a terrorist group by the United States, though it has since been removed from the list of designated active terrorist groups. It has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, child-sex slavery, and forcing children to participate in hostilities.

The LRA’s ideology is disputed among academics. Although the LRA has been regarded primarily as a Christian militia, the LRA reportedly evokes Acholi nationalism on occasion, but many observers doubt the sincerity of this behaviour and the loyalty of Kony to either ideology.

Robert Gersony, in a report funded by United States Embassy in Kampala in 1997, concluded that “the LRA has no political program or ideology, at least none that the local population has heard or can understand.” The International Crisis Group has stated that “the LRA is not motivated by any identifiable political agenda, and its military strategy and tactics reflect this.”

IRIN comments that “the LRA remains one of the least understood rebel movements in the world, and its ideology, as far as it has one, is difficult to understand.” During an interview with IRIN, the LRA commander Vincent Otti was asked about the LRA’s vision of an ideal government, to which he responded:

Lord’s Resistance Army is just the name of the movement, because we are fighting in the name of God. God is the one helping us in the bush. That’s why we created this name, Lord’s Resistance Army. And people always ask us, are we fighting for the Ten Commandments of God. That is true – because the Ten Commandments of God is the constitution that God has given to the people of the world. All people. If you go to the constitution, nobody will accept people who steal, nobody could accept to go and take somebody’s wife, nobody could accept to kill the innocent, or whatever. The Ten Commandments carries all this.

In a speech delivered by James Alfred Obita, former secretary for external affairs and mobilisation of the Lord’s Resistance Army, he adamantly denied that the LRA was “just an Acholi thing” and stated that claims made by the media and Museveni administration asserting that the LRA is a “group of Christian fundamentalists with bizarre beliefs whose aim is to topple the Museveni regime and replace it with governance based on the Bible’s ten commandments” were false.

In the same speech, Obita also claimed that the LRA’s objectives are:
-To fight for the immediate restoration of competitive multi-party democracy in Uganda.
-To see an end to gross violation of human rights and dignity of Ugandans.
-To ensure the restoration of peace and security in Uganda.
-To ensure unity, sovereignty and economic prosperity beneficial to all Ugandans.
-To bring to an end to the repressive policy of deliberate marginalization of groups of people who may not agree with the National Resistance Army’s ideology.

The original aims of the group were more closely aligned with those of its predecessor, the Holy Spirit Movement. Protection of the Acholi population was of great concern because of the reality of ethnic purges in the history of Uganda. This created a great deal of concern in the Acholi community as well as a strong desire for formidable leadership and protection.

As the conflict has progressed, fewer and fewer Acholi offered sufficient support to the rebels in the eyes of the LRA. This led to an increased amount of violence toward the non-combatant population, which in turn further alienated them from the rebels. This self-perpetuating cycle led to the creation of a strict divide between Acholis and rebels, a divide that was previously not explicitly present.

Bantu-speaking agriculturists such as the Baganda people in Uganda’s south and east developed different and competing social and economic structures from the Nilotic language speaking Acholi in the north, whose economic system was centred around hunting, farming and livestock herding. The ethnic and cultural divisions within Uganda continued to exist during the years of the British Uganda Protectorate, which was created in 1894. While the agricultural Baganda people worked closely with the British, the Acholi and other northern ethnic groups supplied much of the national manual labour, and came to comprise a majority of the military.

The southern region became the centre for commercial trade development. The livestock-raising Acholi from the north of Uganda were resented for dominating the army and policing. Following the country’s independence in 1962, Uganda’s ethnic groups continued to compete with each other within the bounds of Uganda’s new political system.
In 1986, the armed rebellion waged by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) won the Ugandan Bush War and achieved control of the country. The victors sought vengeance against ethnic groups in the North of Uganda. Their activities included Operation Simsim, which engaged in burning, looting, and killings of locals.

Such acts of violence led to the formation of rebel groups from the ranks of the previous Ugandan army, UNLA. Many of those groups made peace with Museveni. However, the southern-dominated army did not stop attacking civilians in the north of the country. Therefore, by late 1987 to early 1988, a civilian resistance movement led by Alice Lakwena was formed.

Lakwena did not pick up arms against the central government; her members carried sticks and stones. She believed she was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Lakwena portrayed herself as a prophet who received messages from the Holy Spirit, and expressed the belief that the Acholi could defeat the Museveni government. She preached that her followers should cover their bodies with shea nut oil as protection from bullets, never take cover or retreat in battle, and never kill snakes or bees.

Joseph Kony would later preach a similar superstition, encouraging soldiers to use oil to draw a cross on their chest as a protection from bullets. During a later interview, however, Alice Lakwena distanced herself from Kony, claiming that the spirit does not want soldiers to kill civilians or prisoners of war.

Kony sought to align himself with Lakwena and in turn garner support from her constituents, even going so far as to claim they were cousins. Meanwhile, Kony gained a reputation as having been possessed by spirits and became a spiritual figure or a medium. He and a small group of followers first moved beyond his home village of Odek on 1 April 1987. A few days later, he met a group of former Uganda National Liberation Front soldiers from the Black Battalion whom he managed to recruit. They then launched a raid on the city of Gulu.

By August 1987, Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Mobile Force scored several victories on the battlefield and began a march towards the capital Kampala. In 1988, after the Holy Spirit Movement was decisively defeated in the Jinja District and Lakwena fled to Kenya, Kony seized this opportunity to recruit the Holy Spirit remnants. The LRA occasionally carried out local attacks to underline the inability of the government to protect the population.
The fact that most National Resistance Army (NRA) government forces, in particular former members of the Federal Democratic Movement (FEDEMO), were known for their lack of discipline and brutal actions meant that the civilian population were accused of supporting the rebel LRA; likewise, the rebels accused the population of supporting the government army.

In March 1991, the Ugandan government’s NRA started Operation North, which combined efforts to destroy the LRA, while cutting away its roots of support among the population through heavy-handed tactics. As part of Operation North, the army created the “Arrow Groups”, village guards mostly armed with bows and arrows. The creation of the Arrow Groups angered Kony, who began to feel that he no longer had the support of the population.
After the failure of Operation North, Betty Bigombe initiated the first face-to-face meeting between representatives of the rebel LRA and NRA government.

The rebels asked for a general amnesty for their combatants and to “return home”, but the government stance was hampered by disagreement over the credibility of the LRA negotiators and political infighting. At a meeting in January 1994, Kony asked for six months to regroup his troops, but by early February the tone of the negotiations was growing increasingly acrimonious and the LRA broke off negotiations, accusing the government of trying to entrap them.

Starting in the mid-1990s, the LRA was strengthened by military support from the government of Sudan, which was retaliating against Ugandan government support for rebels in what would become South Sudan. The LRA fought with the NRA army which led to mass atrocities such as the killing or abduction of several hundred villagers in Atiak in 1995 and the kidnapping of 139 schoolgirls in Aboke in 1996. The government created the so-called “protected camps” beginning in 1996. The LRA declared a short-lived ceasefire for the duration of Ugandan presidential election, 1996, possibly in the hope that Yoweri Museveni would be defeated.

In March 2002, the NRA, under the new name of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), launched a massive military offensive code-named Operation Iron Fist against the LRA bases in southern Sudan, with agreement from the National Islamic Front. In retaliation, the LRA attacked the refugee camps in northern Uganda and the Eastern Equatoria in southern Sudan, brutally killing hundreds of civilians. By 2004, according to the UPDF spokesman Shaban Bantariza, mediation efforts by the Carter Center and the Pope John Paul II had been spurned by Kony. In February 2004, the LRA unit led by Okot Odhiambo attacked Barlonyo IDP camp, killing over 300 people and abducting many others. In 2006, UNICEF estimated that the LRA had abducted at least 25,000 children since the conflict began. In January 2006, eight Guatemalan Kaibiles commandos and at least 15 rebels were killed in a botched UN special forces raid targeting the LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the LRA attacks and the government’s counter-insurgency measures have resulted in the displacement of nearly 95 percent of the Acholi population in three districts of northern Uganda. By 2006, 1.7 million people lived in more than 200 internally displaced person (IDP) camps in northern Uganda.

These camps had some of the highest mortality rates in the world. The Ugandan Ministry of Health and partners estimated that through the first seven months of 2005, about 1,000 people were dying weekly, chiefly from malaria and AIDS. During the same time period of January–July 2005, the LRA abducted 1,286 Ugandans (46.4 percent of whom were children under the age of 15 years), and violence accounted for 9.4 percent of the 28,283 deaths, occurring mostly outside camps.

In 2006–2008, a series of meetings were held in Juba, Sudan, between the government of Uganda and the LRA, mediated by the south Sudanese separatist leader Riek Machar. The Ugandan government and the LRA signed a truce on 26 August 2006. Under the terms of the agreement, LRA forces would leave Uganda and gather in two assembly
areas in the remote Garamba National Park area of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo that the Ugandan government agreed not to attack.

In December 2008–March 2009, however, the armed forces of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan launched aerial attacks and raids on the LRA camps in Garamba, destroying them, but the efforts to inflict a final military defeat on the LRA were not fully successful. Rather, the U.S.-supported Operation Lightning Thunder resulted in brutal revenge attacks by scattered LRA remnants, with over 1,000 people killed and hundreds abducted in Congo and South Sudan, and hundreds of thousands were displaced while fleeing the massacres. The military action in the DRC did not result in the capture or killing of Kony, who remained elusive.

During the Christmas of 2008, the LRA massacred at least 143 people and abducted 180 at a concert celebration sponsored by the Catholic Church in Faradje in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and struck several other communities in the near-simultaneous attacks: 75 people were murdered in a church near Dungu, at least 80 were killed in Batande, 48 in Bangadi, and 213 in Gurba. By August 2009, the LRA terror in this country resulted in displacing as many as 320,000 Congolese, exposing them to a threat of famine, according to UNICEF director Ann Veneman. That same month, the LRA attacked a Catholic church in Ezo, South Sudan, on the Feast of the Assumption, with reports of victims being crucified, causing Ugandan Archbishop John Baptist Odama to call on the international community for help in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.

In December 2009, the LRA forces under Dominic Ongwen killed at least 321 civilians and abducted 250 others during a four-day rampage in the village and region of Makombo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In February 2010, about 100 people were massacred by the LRA in Kpanga, near Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s border with the Central African Republic and Sudan. Small-scale attacks continued daily, displacing large numbers of people and worsening an ongoing humanitarian crisis which the UN described as one of the worst in the world.

By May 2010, the LRA killed over 1,600 Congolese civilians and abducted more than 2,500. Between September 2008 and July 2011, the group, despite being down to only a few hundred fighters, has killed more than 2,300 people, abducted more than 3,000, and displaced over 400,000 across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

In March 2012, Uganda announced it would head a new four-nation African Union military force (a brigade of 5,000, including contingents from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan) to hunt down Kony and the remnants of the LRA, but asked for more international assistance for the task force. In 2012 the LRA was reported to be in Djema, Central African Republic but forces pursuing the LRA withdrew in April 2013 after the government of the Central African Republic was overthrown by the Séléka Coalition rebels.

Part of the structural causes of the LRA conflict has been explained as rooted in the “diversity of ethnic groups which were at different levels of socio-economic development and political organization”. This has led to ethnic strife. Enemy images have instilled insensitivity to the extent that people perceived as enemies can be construed and ignored as inconsequential. A former Cabinet minister who was a key figure in the Presidential Peace Team while addressing elders in Lango on the atrocities committed by the NRA in the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, Apac and Teso, warned them that “they did not matter as long as the south was stable”.

This sense of betrayal on the northerners has festered into a groundswell of mistrust by the population against virtually any overtures from the government to the rebels.
This cynical strategy, some argue, was deeply rooted and employed in Luwero triangle by the NRM/A rebels during their five-year-bush war in order to garner popular support, while in essence their real underlying drive was “unique greed for absolute political power” in total abhorrence of democratic means.

The strong imbalance in the level of development and investment between Eastern & Northern Uganda on the one side, and Central & Western Uganda on the other perceived as the land of milk and honey, is a clear manifestation of economic marginalisation of the region, in spite of the fact that most top leadership in Uganda hailed from the north between 1962 and 1985. This marginalisation, deliberate or otherwise, with the adverse consequences of the war, has resulted in disparate poverty levels in northern Uganda, for the most part of the NRM’s 20 plus years’ rule.

Although poverty at times may be treated as an escalating factor that creates resentment in society, its role in the conflict in northern Uganda is part and parcel of the underlying structural factors. The Poverty Status Report, 2003, indicates that “one third of the chronically poor (30.1%) and a disproportionate moving into poverty are from northern Uganda“.

The LRA is a consequence of an ethnic-oriented war that was initiated by the NRM/A in Luwero Triangle against the ‘northerners’. This was fuelled by the belief on the part of the leadership of the NRM/A that Uganda politics had since political independence been ‘dominated’ by the ‘northerners’ in the country and that this had happened because of their alleged domination of the armed forces.
The determination was that this ‘domination’ of politics in Uganda by the ‘northerners’ was no longer acceptable and had to end. This suggested that until that objective of removing the ‘northerners’ from power had been achieved and all threats from those quarters removed, the war in the north had to continue.

In 2007, the government of Uganda claimed that the LRA had only 500 or 1,000 soldiers in total, but other sources estimated that there could have been as many as 3,000 soldiers, along with about 1,500 women and children. By 2011, unofficial estimates were in the range of 300 to 400 combatants, with more than half believed to be abductees. The soldiers are organized into independent squads of 10 or 20 soldiers.

By early 2012, the LRA had been reduced to a force of between 200 and 250 fighters, according to Ugandan defence minister Crispus Kiyonga. Abou Moussa, the UN envoy in the region, said in March 2012 that the LRA was believed to have dwindled to between 200 and 700 followers but still remained a threat: “The most important thing is that no matter how little the LRA may be, it still constitutes a danger [as] they continue to attack and create havoc.” Since the LRA first started fighting in the 1990s they may have forced well over 10,000 boys and girls into combat, often killing family, neighbors and school teachers in the process.

Many of these children were put on the front lines so the casualty rate for these children has been high. The LRA have often used children to fight because they are easy to replace by raiding schools or villages. According to Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the government was the first to use child soldiers in this conflict.

Although this is not proven, there has been rumors that Sudan may have provided military assistance to the LRA, in response to Uganda lending military support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). According to Matthew Green, author of The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted, the LRA was highly organised and equipped with crew-operated weapons, VHF radios and satellite phones. In 2001, it was also reported that LRA targets Sudanese refugees.

ICC Investigation:
The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on 8 July and 27 September 2005, against Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and the LRA commanders Okot Odhiambo, deputy army commander and Dominic Ongwen, brigade commander of the Sania Brigade of the LRA. The four LRA leaders were charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, and sexual slavery. Ongwen was the only of the four not charged with recruiting child soldiers. The warrants were filed under seal; public redacted versions were released on 13 October 2005.

These were the first warrants issued by the ICC since it was established in 2002. Details of the warrants were sent to the three countries where the LRA is active: Uganda, Sudan (the LRA was active in what is now South Sudan), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The LRA leadership has long stated that they would never surrender unless they were granted immunity from prosecution; so the ICC order to arrest them raised concerns that the insurgency would not have a negotiated end.

The indictments received warm praise within the international community. However, the Acholi people showed mixed reactions. Many felt that amnesty for the LRA soldiers and a negotiated settlement was the best hope for the end of the war. In the end, the court’s intent to prosecute the leaders of the LRA reduced the army’s willingness to cooperate in peace negotiations.

On 30 November 2005, the LRA deputy commander, Vincent Otti, contacted the BBC announcing a renewed desire among the LRA leadership to hold peace talks with the Ugandan government. The government expressed skepticism regarding the overture but stated their openness to peaceful resolution of the conflict.

On 2 June 2006, Interpol issued five wanted person red notices to 184 countries on behalf of the ICC, which has no police of its own. Kony had been previously reported to have met Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar. The next day, Human Rights Watch reported that the regional government of Southern Sudan had ignored previous ICC warrants for the arrest of four of LRA’s top leaders, and instead supplied the LRA with cash and food as an incentive to stop them from attacking southern Sudanese citizens.

At least two of the five wanted LRA leaders have since been killed: Lukwiya in August 2006 and Otti in late 2007 (executed by Kony). Odhiambo was rumoured to have been killed in April 2008. In February, 2015, UPDF forces found the body of an unidentified person. Later on in April, DNA tests identified that the body was that of Odhiambo.
In July 2011, South Sudan seceded from Sudan, cutting the LRA off geopolitically from its former allies in Khartoum.
In January 2015, Dominic Ongwen was reported either to have defected or to have been captured and was held by the Ugandan forces.

Campaign of violence:

Aboke abductions
The Aboke abductions were the kidnapping of 139 secondary school female students from St. Mary’s College boarding school by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on 10 October 1996, in Aboke, Kole District (then part of Apac District), Uganda. The deputy head mistress of the college, Sister Rachele Fassera of Italy, pursued the rebels and negotiated the release of 109 of the girls. The Aboke abductions and Fassera’s dramatic actions drew international attention, unprecedented at that time, to the insurgency in northern Uganda.

Following the rise to power in January 1986 of President Yoweri Museveni after the victory of his rebel National Resistance Army, the north of Uganda was wracked by conflict as first the rebel Uganda People’s Democratic Army and then the chiliastic Holy Spirit Movement struggled against the new rulers. In January 1987, another rebel group, the LRA, was started by the spirit-medium Joseph Kony, eventually becoming the sole surviving rebel force.

Despite attempts by the government to destroy or co-opt the LRA, it remained a weak but threatening force in the northern bush. In early 1994, the character of the LRA changed after it began to be supplied by the government of Sudan. The rebels began to target civilians, mutilating those they thought to be government sympathisers and abducting children as child soldiers and sex slaves.

Most LRA activities at this time were concentrated within the three districts then comprising Acholiland: Gulu, Pader, and Kitgum. The violence, however, sometimes reached into Apac District, which bordered Gulu and Pader to the south. On 21 March 1989, the LRA carried out a raid on St. Mary’s College, a Combonian school for girls mainly between the ages of 13 and 16.

The rebels had abducted 10 schoolgirls and 33 seminarians and villagers, as well as killing others whom they had run across. In that incident, Fassera had tried to follow the rebels but had been forced to turn back after a battle erupted between the LRA force and a patrol of the government Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). Nine of the ten girls eventually escaped, while one was killed in a battle several years later. As a result, a UPDF unit was assigned to protect the college.

By 1996, the security situation had again worsened. The soldiers of the UPDF had been replaced by Local Defense Unit militia. Rumors began to circulate through the countryside that the LRA was beginning to look at St. Mary’s College as a likely target again. Nevertheless, in September 1996, the LDU militia stated that they must move from the college 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) away to the town of Ikeme. Sister Alba, the mother superior, sent Sister Rachele to negotiate with the LDU commanding officer, who agreed to set up a night patrol if a pickup ferried the soldiers to the college at night and back to Ikeme at dawn.

The LRA almost always attacked at night, so this was a key breakthrough. Nineteen soldiers were assigned to the protection of the college, but Alba, feeling that the military presence was insufficient to stop an attack, sent Fassera by bike to ask for 50 soldiers, stating that she would otherwise close the school. Fassera did not have a way to transport the soldiers she was requesting, and the LDU officer calmed her by saying that he would send word if there was any danger.

By 8:15 pm on 9 October 1996, Ugandan Independence Day, the expected soldiers had not yet arrived at the school. The three sisters held a meeting to decide on a plan of action. The option of moving the girls out of the school and dispersing them was discussed, but it was already dark and the possibility that LRA rebels would be waiting outside to attack deterred the sisters from this course. An hour later, the girls went to bed, although the mother superior stayed up until 11:30pm to pray in the chapel. At 2:30 am, the night watchman at the college knocked on Sister Fassera’s door stating: “Sister, the rebels are here.”

Sister Fassera immediately woke Sister Alba and then moved out of the convent towards the front gate, which was actually a net, of the compound and spotted the rebels outside the gate. Thinking that the rebels had been slowed by the gate and that they may be able to evacuate the girls through the back gate, the nuns moved back towards the four dormitories, each of which had about 50 students. As they drew closer, however, they saw flashlights around the dormitories and realized that the LRA had already come through the back gate.

In the knowledge that, if caught, the rebels would force them to open the doors, Sisters Alba and Fassera woke the one older nun, Sister Matilde, and together hid in the compound’s stock house. Through the night, they heard the sounds of rebels moving through the compound but never the voice of any of the girls, giving them hope that the rebels had been kept out of the dorms by the iron reinforced doors and windows. Later estimates put the number of armed rebels at about 200. They burned the school vehicle, ransacked the clinic, and unsuccessfully attempted to burn several buildings.

As dawn approached, the nuns heard the sounds of the rebels leaving. At first light (approximately 6:30 am), Sister Alba sighted a small group of girls wandering in the open. When asked if they were okay, Claudia, a girl in the second class (the equivalent of eighth grade in the United States or Canada – students are typically age 13-14), stated that the other girls had been taken away.

The sisters rushed to the dormitories for classes four, five, and six. However, the girls inside, believing that the rebels had captured the nuns, refused to open the doors. Eventually the students were persuaded out. They reported to the sisters that the rebels had abducted classes one, two, and three. One dormitory window had been broken and another’s wall demolished. One hundred fifty-two secondary school girls between 13 and 16 years of age had been taken. At the time, none of the sisters were able to perform an accurate count.

Fassera immediately volunteered to go after the girls and Sr. Alba agreed. Fassera changed clothes and took some money from the office to buy the girls’ freedom when two male teachers, Bosco and Tom, came in and volunteered to accompany her in the pursuit.

Fassera agreed to take the younger of the two, Bosco, and was about to leave when she was stopped by a 13-year-old student who had been raped. Leaving the child with Sr. Alba, Sr. Rachele and Bosco left the college at about 7 a.m. The rebels had looted a large amount of candy and drinks that the college had bought for the Independence Day celebrations and the pursuers found that they could follow a trail of candy wrappers and drink bottles across the bush.

They eventually came across a man who was fleeing the group of LRA, but who confirmed they had a group of girls with them. LRA bands were known to plant anti-personnel mines on their back trail to discourage pursuit and Bosco soon took the lead, telling Fassera to only step into his footprints. After wading through a swamp, Fassera and Bosco were joined by a woman whose daughter had also been abducted by the passing band. Soon after, as they came over a ridge, they saw the band on the ridge ahead.

Coming through the valley, the three emerged from some dense brush to find themselves facing the leveled rifles of 30 rebels arrayed in two lines. Sister Rachele was depending on two factors: she was White and a nun. The former might lead the rebels to treat her with more caution than they would another Ugandan, while the second was a position of respect in a religious country when dealing with a group that was led by a mystic. Fassera had spent a year and a half in Gulu and knew enough of the Acholi language to begin speaking with the man who identified himself as the leader of the LRA band.

The leader, Mariano Ocaya, stated that he did not want the money she had brought but, in response to her request that he release the girls, to her astonishment, replied “Do not worry. I will give you the girls.” The leader ordered the woman who had joined Bosco and Fassera to leave and the pursuers and the LRA rebels then continued up the ridge, Fassera stayed close to Ocaya in the knowledge that only he could release the girls. They caught up with the girls and continued walking with the rebels and their abductees, both the students and other abductees that the rebels had taken before the band made camp near the railroad at Acokara.

Ocaya told Fassera to separate the St. Mary’s College girls from the other captives and warned her against trying to add the other captives from her group. Fassera began to think that she would actually get all the girls back but at that moment a UPDF helicopter gunship passed overhead, forcing everyone to scatter and hide in the brush and Ocaya ordered everyone to move again.
Crossing the railroad tracks, the group came under fire from UPDF soldiers and everyone scrambled for cover. For four hours, the group continued on a forced march, periodically hiding from the gunship searching the area, as a rearguard of rebels slowed the UPDF soldiers.

The group, apparently losing the UPDF, arrived in a camp where there were still more abductees and the St. Mary’s College girls were again separated from the others. One of Ocaya’s “wives” took Fassera behind a hut to bathe and they had an argument when Fassera refused to change out of her habit into a dress. When she returned, Bosco whispered some of the girls were not being released. Fassera asked Ocaya if he was releasing the girls and he shook his head, wrote “139” in the dirt with a stick and said that he was releasing 109 and keeping 30, having selected them for desirable traits while Fassera was absent.

When Fassera protested, Ocaya said that she could write a letter to Joseph Kony with the names of the girls and he might agree to release them. Taking a piece of paper, Fassera went back to the girls, she found that the 30 had already been separated. When she approached, the 30 began calling out to her to save them and, at an order from Ocaya, nearby soldiers began beating and kicking the girls. When they again fell silent, Ocaya again ordered Fassera to write down their names.

As she came close, the girls again asked her to help, telling her that they would be raped if they stayed until nightfall. Again, Fassera asked Ocaya to release the 30 as well, but he replied that either 30 would stay or all would. One of the girls named Angela offered to write the names, as Ocaya insisted that Fassera join him and the other LRA commanders for tea and cookies. When she returned, Angela whispered that a girl named Janet had slipped into the 109. Fassera knew that Ocaya was thoroughly capable of ordering all 139 to stay if he found Fassera trying to sneak one of the 30 out, so he went to Janet and told her that she was endangering the entire group. Janet apologized and rejoined the 30. After telling Judith, the head girl of the class, to look after the other 29, Fassera and Bosco took the 109 and eventually found their way back to the college.

Five of the thirty girls died in captivity and of the remainder, all but two eventually made their escape by 2006. Soon after the abduction, a girl named Jennifer went missing. When she was found hiding in a hut, the rebels dragged her into the open and ordered the others to beat her to death. The girls hit her lightly at first, but then the rebels surrounded the group and beat anyone who was not hitting Jennifer hard. Afterwards the LRA rebels left the corpse in the open and beat those who wept, both as an object lesson about attempting to escape and as a way to break the social ties between the girls.

Of the fates of the thirty, the death of Judith, the head girl, is notable for its brutality. It is Sr. Rachele’s belief that her request of Judith that she look after the others led her to do something that annoyed the rebels. One evening, Judith and another girl from the group of other captives, Caterina, had their hands bound behind their backs and were attacked with sticks, bicycle chains and machetes. Caterina died of her wounds the following morning, but Judith was still alive 24 hours later and asked for water. The rebels instead dragged her into the forest and tied her to a tree. A group of captives gathering firewood found her body a week later but the body had not started decomposing, indicating that she had not been dead for long. After a week of walking, the girls were brought north to Kony’s base in Southern Sudan where they were given to various commanders as “wives”.

Sr. Rachele and the parents of the remaining abducted children formed the Concerned Parents Association (CPA) to raise awareness of the abductions and work for the children to be returned. In the course of their advocacy, the tale of the Aboke girls became one of the most widely known horror stories of the entire conflict. The CPA appealed to Pope John Paul II, who condemned the abductions, therefore drawing international attention to the incident and the situation in northern Uganda in general.

On 7 March 1997, President Museveni wrote to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan describing the plight of the Aboke girls. In June 1997, Sr. Rachele and members of the CPA met with LRA commanders in Juba, Sudan.
After originally denying that they held the girls, they then said they would release them if the Ugandan military declared a ceasefire. The Ugandan government rejected the proposal and stated that they were not responsible for anything that may happen to the girls.

One of the most active CPA members has been Angelina Atyam, mother of Aboke girl Charlotte. Sr. Rachele and Ms. Atyam have, between the two of them, met the UN Special representative for children and armed conflicts, Olara Otunnu, then-U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, Kofi Annan, Yoweri Museveni, the Pope, members of the European Parliament, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, as well as numerous diplomats of other nations.

The leaders of the LRA were indicted in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, although some have noted that the indictments complicated the sporadic attempts at negotiations. A 2006 study estimated that 66,000 children and youths had been abducted over the course of the 20-year conflict.

On 14 March 2009, Catherine Ajok, the last of the abducted Aboke girls still held by the rebels, returned to Uganda. Ajok escaped during the Garamba offensive against the LRA, making her way to a UPDF base in Dungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. She returned with her 21-month-old baby, who she said was fathered by Joseph Kony.

Atiak massacre:
The Atiak massacre occurred on April 20, 1995, when a group of estimated 300 Lord’s Resistance Army soldiers led by Vincent Otti entered the northern Ugandan town of Atiak, Amuru District. After routing the UPDF and rounding up hundreds of civilians, the LRA announced, “you Acholi have refused to support us. We shall now teach you a lesson.”The LRA then handpicked young boys and young girls from the rest, in order to conscript into their ranks and to use as sex slaves, and marched them into the bush. Most of the remaining 200-300 captives were executed by gunfire.

The massacre scuttled the diplomatic relations between the governments of Uganda and Sudan, the LRA’s primary sponsor. At the time the two had been in peace talks in Tripoli. Within days of Atiak, Uganda accused Sudan of an aerial bombardment within Uganda and broke off diplomatic relations entirely.

2008 Christmas massacres:
The Christmas massacres took place on 24–27 December 2008, when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group, attacked several villages in Haut-Uele District, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The LRA attacks followed the beginning of a joint military operation on December 14, led by the Ugandan army with support from the Congolese, South Sudanese, and Central African Republic armies. The Ugandan army attacked the LRA headquarters in Congo‘s Garamba National Park, near the border with Sudan. Following this attack, the LRA dispersed into several groups, each of which targeted civilians along its path.

The rebels waited until December 24 for the most devastating of their attacks, waiting until people had come together for Christmas festivities, then surrounding and killing them by crushing their skulls with axes, machetes, and large wooden bats. Media reports indicated that more than 620 people were killed, many of them hacked into pieces, decapitated, or burned alive in their homes. Several people reportedly had their lips cut off as a “warning not to speak ill of the rebels”, and two three-year-old girls suffered serious neck injuries when rebels tried to twist their heads off.

More than 20,000 people were reported to have been displaced by the attacks, and at least 20 children were abducted by the LRA. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that as many as 225 people, including 160 children, may have been abducted and more than 80 women raped.

According to Human Rights Watch, “the similar tactics and the near-simultaneous attacks indicate this was a planned operation meant to slaughter and terrorize as many civilians as possible”. The LRA has denied responsibility for the attacks; an LRA spokesman suggested that LRA defectors who had joined the Ugandan army may have been responsible.

On 29 December 2008, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 189 people had been killed on 26–27 December. Caritas International has put the death toll at over 400, while Human Rights Watch reported that at least 620 civilians were killed between 24 December and 13 January.

At least five villages were attacked:
Faradje: Approximately 150 people were killed on 25–26 December. Rebels reportedly attacked a Christmas Day concert organised by the Catholic Church, and returned the following morning to “continue their killing spree”.
The UNHCR reported that at least 70 were killed and 37,000 people were forced to flee. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 143 people were killed and 160 children and 20 adults abducted.

Batande: At least 80 people were killed on 25 December when rebels attacked a Christmas lunch following the morning church service.The men and boys were reportedly taken about 40 meters from the church and killed immediately, then the women and girls were taken into the forest in small groups and many of them raped before they were killed. One witness reported that only six people were left alive in the village. The rebels then ate the Christmas feast the villagers had prepared and slept among the dead bodies.

Duru: 75 were reportedly killed and a church burned down in the village.
Bangadi: 48 were killed.
Gurba: 213 were killed.

Makombo massacre:
The Makombo massacre was an incident that took place from 14 to 17 December 2009 in the Haut-Uele District of Democratic Republic of the Congo in the village and region of Makombo. Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes the attacks, which killed 321 people, were perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who deny being responsible.

The sixty-mile (95 km) round-trip series of attacks began December 13, 2009, in Mabanga Ya Talo, and continued until December 18, traveling southeast down to the village of Tapili and back northwest again to the point of origin — a crossing over to the LRA camps on the north side of the Uele River near Mavanzonguda.

The attack is believed to have been perpetrated by the LRA men in military uniforms, pretending to be Congolese soldiers. The LRA demanded that local villagers bring food and other supplies to them and turned to violence when they refused. The adults were made to act as porters, with those unable to keep up with the pace, refusing to cooperate, or trying to escape being killed.

According to Human Rights Watch, LRA forces attacked at least 10 villages, capturing, killing, and abducting hundreds of civilians, including women and children. The vast majority of those killed were adult men, whom LRA combatants first tied up and then hacked to death with machetes or crushed their skulls with axes and heavy wooden sticks. The dead include at least 13 women and 23 children, the youngest a 3-year-old girl who was burned to death.

HRW first found out about the attacks in February 2010 after a mission visited the villages. News reports stated that the villagers who were spared were sent away with their lips and ears cut off as a warning to what would happen to other people if they talked. In addition HRW said that at least 250 people, including 80 children, were abducted during the attack and rapes and beatings were carried out. The kidnapped boys were taken to become child soldiers and the girls as sex slaves for the LRA men. The LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, who was already facing seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes from the International Criminal Court, was said to have ordered the attacks.

A clergyman from Isiro-Niangara has confirmed the HRW reports stating that at least 30 LRA members were involved in the attacks and that “between 200 and 400” had been kidnapped. A Congolese army Lieutenant reported burying 268 bodies and a Red Cross volunteer buried a further seven bodies and nine skulls, including the son of a local chief. The attack is seen as an indication that the LRA remains active in the region despite losing its bases in Sudan after the Sudanese government signed a peace treaty with south Sudanese rebels in 2005 to end the Second Sudanese Civil War.

It has been suggested that the motive behind the attacks was to kidnap conscripts and steal medicine, clothes and food. This has been supported by reports that the LRA kidnapped nurses from hospitals and stripped clothes from corpses.

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